chicago stock yards

Image via Flickr by Pirate Alice

When you think of pizza in Chicago, it’s almost impossible to separate sausage from the equation. This is the topping of choice in the city, and it comes in many different forms, from an entire crust of sausage to golf ball-size chunks adorning thin crust pizzas. While you may consider the deep dish to be a signature of the city, it’s sausage more than anything that’s become a pervasive part of the pizza scene.

For the true flavor of Chicago, you must sink your teeth into a decadent sausage pizza. Find out how sausage came to be so important as a pizza topping and what shape it often takes so that you can fully appreciate this local tradition.

The History of Meat in Chicago

Sausage is a staple in Chicago. In his 1914 poem, “Chicago,” Carl Sandburg dubbed this the “Hog Butcher for the World.” The meat trade in Chicago dates back to its earliest days, with founder Archibald Clybourne operating a cattle yard in the 1820s and moving meat and cows along the road that would become Clybourn Avenue. The Chicago meatpacking industry was born in the 1830s when George W. Dole, known later as the “Father of the Provisions, Shipping, and Elevator Business,” started slaughtering and packing beef at his store.

The expansion of the railroad in the 1850s helped connect stockyards. Around the same time, an influx of German immigrants made sausage-making more prominent in the city.

The Civil War gave a boost to the meatpacking industry in Chicago when Confederate blockades made it difficult to reach Cincinnati. This led to Chicago overtaking Cincinnati as the biggest meatpacker in the country. Chicago was soon known as “The Great Bovine City of the World” and took over the name “Porkopolis.”

Construction on the Union Stockyards began in 1865, which unified Chicago’s stockyards and took the meatpacking trade to a new level. At its peak, the Union Stockyards processed 18 million animals a year. Daily, the stockyards employed around 45,000 people. Hundreds more came to tour the facility and dine on prime steak at the Sirloin Room. However, as industrialization took over, the stockyards began to decline. The Union Stockyards closed in 1971, and the meatpacking industry moved on, but not before leaving an indelible print on the tastes of the city.

Chicago Sausage

Though there is no singular recipe for “Chicago sausage,” long-time residents proudly laud the Italian sausage that’s found around the city. This is the most popular topping on pizzas in Chicago, though pepperoni is the top-ranked pizza topping nationally. A quick online search yields numerous former residents seeking that elusive recipe to recreate the mouthwatering Chicago-style Italian sausage that’s so readily found in the city.

Marc Malnati of Lou Malnati’s told the Chicago Tribune that Italian sausage is “by far the most popular topping” in his restaurants. Pat’s Pizzeria in Lincoln Park reports going through 100 to 150 pounds of sausage a week. The Villa Nova Pizzeria reports that sausage is their number one topping as well.

Just what is it that constitutes the flavorful sausage on these pizzas? Even Chicago’s restaurants can’t agree. At Lou Malnati’s, the sausage is low in fat and simply seasoned, with fennel absolutely banned from the blend. Villa Nova Pizzeria, on the other hand, uses a sausage from Chicago’s International Meat that’s heavy in fennel. Pizzeria Bebu uses a house-made sausage with a blend of garlic, chili, and fennel for seasoning.

Chicago-Style Pizza

When you hear the term Chicago-style pizza, you may not think of the topping so much as the crust. To truly understand the pizza scene in the city, you should know about the pizza crust styles that you’ll find in and around Chicago.

Chicago-style pizza is typically a deep-dish pizza. Some contend that this pizza was invented by Pizzeria Uno’s founder Ike Sewell in 1943. Others argue that chef Rudy Malnati developed the recipe when he joined Uno’s. Others claim that the recipe dates back to 1926 when it was served at Rosati’s Authentic Chicago Pizza.

Wherever the recipe came from, it features a thick crust that’s baked in a skillet or deep, round pan. The crust is pressed into the pan to create a shape almost like a bowl for the toppings. This deep pizza takes up to 45 minutes to bake. The long baking time would scorch cheese or meat left on top, so the pizza is assembled backwards with the cheese directly on the crust topped by meats and vegetables that are then drowned in sauces.

Another Chicago favorite is stuffed pizza. This is nearly identical to deep dish pizza. The primary difference is that a second layer of dough is placed on top of the pizza, keeping the sauce and toppings neatly stuffed in the middle. This isn’t to say that you can’t get a thin crust pizza in Chicago, though. Many restaurants serve thin or even extra-thin crust pizzas.

Putting it All Together

If you’re ready to enjoy a truly distinctive taste of Chicago, your best bet is to get a deep dish pizza piled high with Italian sausage. Since the debate on fennel is so fierce, you may have to make your own call on whether or not this seasoning should factor into the flavor. There’s no one way that you must serve up the sausage. While some contend that it should come in meatball-like chunks, others are happy to chop it up and enjoy more evenly spread goodness.

At Pequod’s Pizza in Chicago, you’ll find some of the best deep dish pizza in the city. You can pile your crust with any of more than a dozen toppings. Naturally, sausage is included on the menu. However, you can customize your pie to include other favorites as well. Try a meat-lovers specialty with pepperoni, Canadian bacon, and ground beef. If you want to pile on the produce, check out our selection of veggies, including onion, mushroom, jalapeno, spinach, green olives, black olives, green pepper, and more. Order now and we’ll make your pizza to please.